An African American cemetery, historic churches, an Italian prisoner-of-war camp, a neighborhood commercial building near Central High School, a railroad depot, a tourist home for African Americans during the era of Jim Crow, an antebellum house — all tell stories of the state’s past in tangible ways. And the nonprofit Preserve Arkansas announced last week that if we don’t act, we’ll lose the chapters they tell so well in the state’s history.

Preserve Arkansas made the announcement at Curran Hall, an antebellum home rescued by the city of Little Rock and made into a visitor center, of 10 properties nominated by individuals and organizations. The list of the properties, with edited narratives by Preserve Arkansas, is on the jump.

• Camp Monticello (Monticello, Drew County):

Camp Monticello was an Italian prisoner-of-war camp during World War II on state Highway 35 southeast of Monticello.  Construction on the camp began in 1942 and consisted of three compounds for enlisted men, two compounds for officers, a hospital, garrison echelon, and other facilities. The camp was surrounded by barbed-wire fences and guard towers. Italian POWs, the vast majority of them officers, began to arrive at Camp Monticello in 1943. They spent their time working, playing sports, attending Mass, preparing Italian meals, learning, and creating art. The camp was closed in 1945 at the conclusion of World War II, and prisoners were eventually returned to Italy. Since the 1940s, the University of Arkansas at Magnolia has used much of the former camp for teaching livestock and forest management. For this reason, Camp Monticello is one of the best preserved POW camps in the U.S.  

• Centennial Baptist Church

The Gothic-style Centennial Baptist Church, at the corner of York and Columbia streets in Helena-West Helena, was completed in 1905. Designed by African American architect Henry James Price, the church featured a steeply pitched, cross-gabled roof, asymmetrical towers, and lancet-shaped window and door openings. Centennial Baptist Church is one of only 25 National Historic Landmarks in Arkansas. It is a rare example of a church designed by an African American architect for an African American congregation, and it is exceptionally significant for its association with Dr. Elias Camp Morris, its pastor and a nationally known figure in the Baptist denomination and a founder of Arkansas Baptist College in Little Rock. The roof is sagging and the east wall of the church is being held up by steel bracing.

• First Baptist Church/EMOBA (Little Rock, Pulaski County)

Located at the corner of 12th and Louisiana streets just north of the Governor’s Mansion Historic District, Little Rock’s historic First Baptist Church was built in 1941 to accommodate the church’s growing congregation and in the National Register of Historic Places in 1994 as an excellent example of a church designed in the Collegiate Gothic style by Little Rock architect A. N. McAninch. The church traces its origin to 1824, when a group of Baptists met at the home of early settler Isaac Watkins. The congregation met in several locations before settling at 12th and Louisiana. The 1941 church is notable for its Collegiate Gothic composition and monumental stained-glass windows featuring rich hues of red, purple, and blue. The congregation of First Baptist Church moved to its present location on Pleasant Valley Drive in 1974, and the historic building sat vacant until 1993, when it was purchased by the nonprofit Ernie’s Museum of Black Arkansans or EMOBA, founded by Little Rock native Ernestine “Ernie” Dodson. Deferred maintainance has taken its toll and a portion of the roof has collapsed. 

• First Presbyterian Church (Fordyce, Dallas County)

Organized in 1883, the First Presbyterian Church was the first church in Fordyce, prompting railroad mogul and town namesake Samuel Fordyce to donate the church bell. The present buff brick church is the congregation’s third building. Constructed in 1912, the First Presbyterian Church was designed by Tennessee architect Reuben Harrison Hunt. Specializing in churches, public buildings, and skyscrapers, the R. H. Hunt Company was one of the most prominent architectural practices in the South from the 1880s to the 1930s. The interior was finished with rich walnut paneling and trim, and the stained glass windows were made in Italy. The sanctuary accommodated 350 people with roll-up doors providing overflow room during weddings and funerals. The church has not been in use for 10 years; roof leaks have caused water damage and foundation settleing has caused the rear wall to crack. The church still contains its original pipe organ, pews, pulpit and hymnals.

• Latimore Tourist Home (Russellville, Pope County)

The Latimore Tourist Home at 318 S. Houston Ave. in Russellville was a Folk Victorian-style lodging house for African-American travelers and railroaders. It was built at the turn of the 20th century by a black carpenter, Gordon Parker, for his family. Eugene Latimore, an educator and steam engine repairman, bought the home in the early 1930s, and his wife, Cora, opened the house as a tourist home. During the Jim Crow era, cities and towns throughout the South had segregated facilities. Located a few blocks south of U.S. Highway 64, the Latimore Home was the only accommodation between Little Rock and Fort Smith where an African American traveler could stop for food and lodging. Though the Civil Rights Act passed Congress in 1964 ending segregation, the Latimore Tourist Home remained in business until the mid-1970s. It was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2011 for its significance to the state’s African American history. Now owned by an adjacent church, the boarded-up lodging house has been condemned.  

• Magnolia Cemetery (Helena-West Helena, Phillips County)

Magnolia Cemetery is an African-American cemetery located north of downtown Helena on the west side of Crowley’s Ridge opposite the Maple Hill Cemetery. Established about 1870 as Evergreen Cemetery, the present-day Magnolia and Maple Hill cemeteries originally comprised one large city cemetery with separate sections for whites and blacks. In 1898, Evergreen Cemetery was reorganized as Maple Hill Cemetery. The following year, 15 African American citizens formed the Magnolia Cemetery Company to purchase the black portion of the cemetery for $400. The cemetery is an important burial ground for Helena’s African American community. It is the resting place of one of the first black legislators of Arkansas, W. H. Grey, as well as businessmen, philanthropists, newspapermen, blues musicians, reverends, military veterans, and members of pioneering black families.  Nineteen of the cemetery’s 36 acres are situated on the western downward slope of Crowley’s Ridge, and erosion and flooding have damaged many of the burials. The cemetery also faces problems similar to other African American cemeteries in rural areas, such as vandalism and neglect, limited funding for restoration, and migration of communities out of Arkansas during and after World War II, leaving few people to remember the families buried there. 

• Ponder’s Drug Store/Capel Building (Little Rock, Pulaski County)

Located at the corner of W. 16th and Park, catercornered from Little Rock Central High School, the Capel Building was built in 1926 by William E. Capel. In the decades immediately after its construction, the building’s eastern storefront at 2121 W. 16th housed grocery stores, while the western storefront at 2123 W. 16th housed drug stores. Occupants included Cox Stores Inc., Grocers and Tiger’s Drug Company (1928) and the Kroger Grocery and Baking Co. and High School Pharmacy (1930). By the late 1940s, the building was home to Clark G. Ponder’s Drug Store. During the fall of 1957, Ponder’s Drug Store bore witness to the desegregation of Central High School and served as an outpost for reporters trying to relay their stories by pay phone. A contributing resource in the Central High School Neighborhood Historic District, the old Ponder’s Drug Store building has been vacant for several years, and the lack of regular maintenance has taken its toll. The building’s roof collapsed some time ago, ultimately causing a portion of the upper brick façade to fall onto 16th Street last summer.

• Quinn Chapel AME Church (Fort Smith, Sebastian County)

The Quinn Chapel AME Church is a contributing resource in the Belle Grove Historic District, which comprises Fort Smith’s oldest neighborhood. Fort Smith’s African Methodist Episcopal congregation was organized in 1864 and met in several different places before 1917, when the present church was erected. The red brick, Gothic Revival-style church features two towers of different height and lancet windows. In 2007 and 2008, the congregation was successful in obtaining nearly $90,000 in grants from the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program to stabilize and repair the church. However, the church was abandoned in 2013 because the congregation could no longer afford to maintain the building. The church was damaged by fire in March 2018, raising concerns about the building’s future. The church is structurally sound, except where the northwest corner was damaged by fire. The sanctuary pews, made of curved and handcrafted wood, remain unharmed. The sanctuary’s original tin ceiling, choir loft, and wood floors are intact. The congregation of Quinn Chapel is looking for a buyer who will see the historic church’s potential and invest in it. 

• Rock Island Railroad Depot (Perry, Perry County)

Built about 1918, the Rock Island Railroad Depot at Perry is the only remaining wood-frame depot from the Rock Island line in Arkansas. Located north of Perryville, the town of Perry was incorporated in 1914 and grew up around the railroad. The line was constructed about 1899 by the Choctaw, Oklahoma & Gulf to transport coal from Indian Territory — now Oklahoma — to the Mississippi River at Memphis. In 1902, the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad bought controlling interest in the Choctaw line and acquired 31 other railroads to create a 700-mile network in Arkansas.  Passenger traffic began to decline in the 1950s, and the last regular passenger train came by the Perry Depot in November 1967. In 1975, the Rock Island filed for bankruptcy, and in 1980, a federal judge ordered the railroad be shut down and liquidated. A few months after the Rock Island’s closure, former railroad employees created the shortline Little Rock & Western Railway to service industries between Little Rock and Danville using old Rock Island trackage. For this reason, the Perry Depot was never abandoned, and in the early 1980s, the Little Rock & Western built a metal locomotive servicing shop directly behind the old depot and constructed a new office nearby. In recent years, the old depot has been used for storage. In mid-2017, preservationists and historians learned that the railroad intended to demolish the old depot to make way for a new machine shop. Since then, the Perry County Historical and Genealogical Society has led the effort to save the Perry Depot by coordinating its move to a city-owned site just across the tracks from its present location. If all goes as planned, the depot will be owned by the City of Perry and serve as a community center and museum.

• Thomas-Tharp House (Fayetteville, Washington County).

The Thomas-Tharp House at 2650 W. Old Farmington Road in Fayetteville was built about 1845 by the William and Irena Thomas family.  While it is not listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the Thomas-Tharp House is significant as an example of early vernacular architecture in Washington County, and as the home of the prominent Thomas and Tharp families. After the Civil War Battle of Prairie Grove, Irena Thomas and her daughter, Alla Jane, tended to sick and wounded soldiers from the Federal and Confederate Armies. The women also buried men killed by guerilla warfare in the aftermath of the battle in what is now Tharp Cemetery on Old Farmington Road. Today, the house, which is not far west of Shiloh Drive — the access road for Interstate 49 — is almost surrounded by hotels and other new development. It is currently unoccupied and deteriorating rapidly due to vandalism and weather infiltration.  The house backs up to 228 acres recently acquired by the City of Fayetteville with the help of the Walton Family Foundation that will be developed into a mountain bike park and trail system. The Thomas-Tharp House could be preserved and used as a southern gateway to the park.

For more information about Preserve Arkansas, contact Rachel Patton at 501-372-4757,, or visit